Taipei: Capital Adventure

Taipei | BCBusiness
Taipei’s kinetic energy spikes as night falls

A trip to Taiwan’s capital will immerse you in a tale of two cities: one old, one new

180 kilometres off the southeastern coast of China, the island state of Taiwan is the perfect jumping-off point for an Asian-inspired holiday. Accessible via direct flights from Vancouver, the capital city of Taipei showcases a split personality of the best kind—one part of the city features dizzyingly busy streets filled with motorized scooters running beside produce and spice-laden storefronts, while the other half is a modern landscape of glass highrises, wide boulevards, spotless sidewalks and high-end shopping centres and restaurants. Mainland China’s influence is unmistakeable, but there are surprise pops of Japanese, Malaysian and even Vietnamese culture hidden just under the city’s surface. For British Columbians familiar with our own province’s melting pot, Taipei looks like familiar territory—and it doesn’t hurt that with access to tropical produce and ancient cooking traditions, the city is a food-lover’s paradise. With the spectacular mix of influence, scenery and culinary traditions, you may not even have to leave Taipei’s borders to experience much of what the island nation has to offer.

1. Shilin Night Market

For a true taste of Taiwan’s old-world charm, forego a restaurant dinner and head to the city’s largest night market. After wandering past dozens of stalls peddling delicacies such as freshly grilled meat skewers loaded with pork and chicken, bowls of vibrant pineapple and mango and the wildly popular oyster omelettes, you will surely come across the famously pungent stinky tofu. This fermented bean curd dish, which smells disturbingly like wet garbage, is often served fried with chili sauce and tastes something like blue cheese. Don’t let the smell fool you—it’s a local favourite and worth a try for anyone looking to separate themselves from the average tourist.

2. National Palace Museum

First opened in Beijing in 1925, the current National Palace Museum located in Taipei is home to thousands of Chinese artifacts from the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. Due to the immense size of the collection, many of the displays change every three months, ensuring that there is always something new to see. Despite the rotating exhibits there are a few pieces guaranteed to be on display, namely the Qing Dynasty’s Jadeite Cabbage sculpture—its popularity is clear after seeing the countless miniature versions available in the museum gift shop.

3. Beitou Hot Spring

The Beitou district in northern Taipei, just a 30-minute train ride from the city’s centre, is home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of hot springs. A pleasant departure from the hustle and bustle of downtown Taipei, Beitou is the perfect place to spend an afternoon strolling quiet streets and spectacular Japanese-style gardens. Head to the Beitou Hot Spring Museum to learn about its history and the area’s sacred sulfuric springs, and for a more luxurious experience, splurge on a private hot-spring bath at the Grand View Resort Beitou, where hot water is piped directly from the outdoor spring into each individual room.

4. Kavalan Whisky

A short drive northeast through rural towns and flooded rice fields leads you to the Yilan district and a much less familiar site—Taiwan’s first whisky distillery. Kavalan opened in 2008 and distills nine different liquors on-site, including the aptly named (and international award-winning) Kavalan Single Malt Whisky. A tour of the operation’s expansive grounds reveals a state-of-the-art distilling operation, including fire-seared bourbon barrels, brought in from Kentucky. After stopping in to sip the offerings at the tasting room, head to the nearby orchard farm to walk off the booze and check out the exotic flora.

5. Din Tai Fung

For comfort food look no further than Taipei’s premier dim sum restaurant, Din Tai Fung, where the xiaolongbao (pork-filled, dumpling-like buns) are literally world-famous. Din Tai Fung has locations all over the globe, from Australia and Japan to the United States, but the dumpling empire got its start in Taipei, so paying a visit to the flagship restaurant is a must. To sample as much as possible, come in a group and order rounds of dim sum to share. Between bites of lobster-, pork- and vegetable-stuffed dumplings, step over to the open kitchen and watch your steamed bites being prepared by hand by an army of chefs.